Saturday, September 05, 2009

Selective aggression

A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it. -Albert Einstein

As a professional poker player, you rapidly become acquainted with your individual strengths and weaknesses. Because I have a highly competitive nature, I want to try and win as many pot I enter as possible. Sometimes though I end up trying to win every pot I enter, and the law of averages (not to mention common-sense) dictates that this cannot be.

Trying to 'buy' pots, whether through constantly leading with weak hands or bluffs or by check-raising with semi-bluffs (especially on the turn), is bad for many reasons. Not only will you lose lots of chips on each hand to calling stations and solid regs, for the rest of the session you also lose one of your best weapons: fear. With a correctly balanced strategy of calls bets and raises, your opponents be unable to read the strength of your hand. In keeping with human nature they will be afraid of the unknown. If you are seen to always bet however, they know you cannot always have a hand and so are much more likely to call you down with medium strength hands.

That means that while you are in hyper-aggressive mode, you will only be able to win a big pot by showing down the best hand, and never by getting your opponent to fold. Strikes me as similar to trying to eat a steak with a knife but no fork. Bluffing and semi-bluffing are tools that I regularly use, and though I probably succeed about as often as I fail for a net profit of zero, I firmly believe that I get paid off a lot more with my good hands because I employ both quite often.

So, as all good players know you need to pick your spots to be aggressive as a simple blanket approach is decisively destructive to your game. A variety of factors must be in effect for an aggressive play to succeed. Calling a big 3bet with 22 preflop against someone who has 300BBs is a terrible idea if they will check call every street without the nuts. Representing a straight on a 346 7 board after you 4-bet preflop could prove costly. You need to know not only your opponents stack size but also their tendencies both before and after the flop, and what your image is and whether your range in a given hand would connect with the flop.

If you are against a tight player, and there is a scary flop, and there is a reasonable chance you hold a hand that now has them crushed, you can represent it. If you suspect your passive opponent had a draw on both the flop and turn and the river bricked out, you may go ahead and bet with your air if you know they are unlikely to call. If you suspect someone of squeeze 3-betting light, you can call and try and take it away later in the hand if they play straight-forwardly after the flop.

With all of these scenarios though, sometimes you just have to pass - do NOT call every raise or 3bet preflop just to try and outplay your opponent on later streets. Sometimes it's ok to fold a suited connector on the button. Simply dumping 66 to a 3-bettor can be a sensible move. Occasionally folding to a small bet on an XXY flop will save you money in the long run. Good players will notice if you always raise or float on certain board types and exploit you the next time. I know I do. So, be careful and balance your plays and you can deny them that opportunity.

Will leave you with some hands where I used some selective aggression and it paid off nicely - but again I have to stress these are not moves I'd often make....

#1 NLHE $2/4 Deep 5-players
Seat 5 - Villain ($922.50 in chips)
Seat 6 - XXXX ($373.75 in chips)
Seat 1 - Hero ($942 in chips)
Seat 2 - XXXX ($1,285.70 in chips)
Seat 3 - XXXX ($1,260.10 in chips)
Villain - Posts small blind $2
XXXX - Posts big blind $4
Dealt to Hero [9c 10c]
Hero - Raises $14 to $14
XXXX - Folds
XXXX - Calls $14
Villain - Raises $54 to $56
XXXX - Folds
Hero - Calls $42
XXXX - Folds
*** FLOP *** [9h 4c 3s]
Villain - Bets $77
Hero - Calls $77

Here I float the rainbow flop with TP and a backdoor flush draw.

*** TURN *** [9h 4c 3s] [Kh]
Villain - Bets $110

On the turn he bet so weakly that I decided to raise, representing a set or turned TPTK because the K is such a good card: it kills QQ-TT, and though he may have had AA or even AK, he has to be scared of my smooth call on the flop followed by a raise when a K falls.

Hero - Raises $240 to $240
Villain - Folds
Hero - returned ($130) : not called

There was also a chance he was squeezing light, and I may in fact have had the best hand.

*** SHOW DOWN ***
Hero - Does not show
Hero Collects $500.50 from main pot

#2 NLHE $2/4, $1 ante 6 players
Seat 4 - Villain ($801 in chips)
Seat 5 - XXXX ($754 in chips)
Seat 6 - Hero ($1,075.50 in chips)
Seat 1 - XXXX ($729.70 in chips)
Seat 2 – XXXX ($510.20 in chips)
Seat 3 - XXXX ($1,577.30 in chips)
XXXX - Posts small blind $2
Hero - Posts big blind $4
Dealt to Hero [9h 9d]
XXXX - Calls $4
XXXX- Folds
XXXX - Folds
Villain - Raises $20 to $20
XXXX - Folds
Hero - Calls $16
XXXX - Calls $16
*** FLOP *** [6s 6c 3h]

Here the villain was 18/11, so very tight basically and deep stacked too. I knew I could take him off all but his strongest hand with an appropriate display of strength on this flop. So I decide to lead into the 2 other players.

Hero - Bets $52
XXXX - Folds
Villain - Raises $156 to $156
Hero - Raises $268 to $320

By firing into 2 players on an XXY flop and then putting in a big 3bet when he raised I told a consistent story of great strength, and he basically has to fold everything except the nuts and maybe AA. Given that I’d been playing well though my image was strong and he may even have laid that down.

Villain - Folds
Hero - returned ($164) : not called

Or he may just have been bluffing with QJs and I had him crushed! :-x

*** SHOW DOWN ***
Hero - Does not show
Hero Collects $376.50 from main pot

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